Objectives: To assess the distribution and risk factors of depleted uranium uptake in military personnel who had taken part in the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Methods: Sector field inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (SF-ICP-MS) was used to determine the uranium concentration and 238U/235U isotopic ratio in spot urine samples. The authors collected urine samples from four groups identified a priori as having different potential for exposure to depleted uranium. These groups were: combat personnel (n = 199); non-combat personnel (n = 96); medical personnel (n = 22); and “clean-up” personnel (n = 24) who had been involved in the maintenance, repair or clearance of potentially contaminated vehicles in Iraq. A short questionnaire was used to ascertain individual experience of circumstances in which depleted uranium exposure might have occurred.
Results: There was no statistically significant difference in the 238U/235U ratio between groups. Mean ratios by group varied from 138.0 (95% CI 137.3 to 138.7) for clean-up personnel to 138.2 (95% CI 138.0 to 138.5) for combat personnel, and were close to the ratio of 137.9 for natural uranium. The two highest individual ratios (146.9 and 147.7) were retested using more accurate, multiple collector inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (MC-ICP-MS) and found to be within measurement of error of that for natural uranium. There were no significant differences in isotope ratio between participants according to self-reported circumstances of potential depleted uranium exposure.
Conclusions: Based on measurements using a SF-ICP-MS apparatus, this study provides reassurance following concern for potential widespread depleted uranium uptake in the UK military. The rare occurrence of elevated ratios may reflect the limits of accuracy of the SF-ICP-MS apparatus and not a real increase from the natural proportions of the isotopes. Any uptake of depleted uranium among participants in this study sample would be very unlikely to have any implications for health.
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Funding: The UK Ministry of Defence funded this study. They had no role in the design, analysis, interpretation, or decision to submit this paper.
Competing interests: D Coggon is chair of the independent Depleted Uranium Oversight Board (DUOB), established by the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD). The DUOB consists of technical experts in the fields of epidemiology, toxicology, screening, mass spectrometry and representatives of UK Armed Forces veterans. S Wessely is Honorary Civilian Consultant Advisor to the British Army. N Greenberg is a full-time active service medical officer who has been seconded to King’s College Centre for Military Health Research as a liaison officer; although paid from Ministry of Defence funds he was not directed in any way by the Ministry in relation to this publication. All other authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
- multiple collector inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry
- sector field inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry
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